“The incredible story of how one man inspired a nation of underdogs to achieve sporting greatness.
It is late summer 2013. Ben Ryan, a red-haired, 40-something, spectacle-wearing Englishman, is given 20 minutes to decide whether he wants to coach Fiji’s rugby sevens team, with the aim of taking them to the nation’s first-ever Olympic medal. He has never been to Fiji. There has been no discussion of contracts or salary. But he knows that no one plays rugby like the men from these isolated Pacific islands, just as no one plays football like the kids from the Brazilian favelas, or no one runs as fast as the boys and girls from Jamaica’s boondocks. He knows too that no other rugby nation has so little – no money and no resources, only basic equipment and a long, sad history of losing its most gifted players to richer, greedier nations.
Ryan says yes. And with that simple word he sets in motion an extraordinary journey that will encompass witchdoctors and rugby-obsessed prime ministers, sun-smeared dawns and devastating cyclones, intense friendships and bitter rows, phone taps and wild nationwide parties. It will end in Rio with a performance that not only wins Olympic gold but reaches fresh heights for rugby union and makes Ben and his 12 players living legends back home.”
It is my great pleasure to welcome you to the blog today and to something COMPLETELY DIFFERENT for damppebbles! Sport. Rugby to be exact. Not my usual fare. If you’re talking about a maul (it’s a rugby term, honest!), then for me it’s being mauled to a bloody, gruesome death. Not a bit of a scuffle on the rugby pitch…
When I first met my husband (over ten years ago now) he devoured books as quickly as I did. He was also a huge crime fiction fan, like me. But he’s not anymore and he hardly ever reads either which I find quite sad. But, he does LOVE rugby. So when I spotted a rugby book on NetGalley, it seemed like fate. My husband was excited about reading this book and that is a wonderful thing.
So, without further ado I am thrilled to welcome my other half, Ryan, to the blog today with his review of Ben Ryan’s Sevens Heaven…
I love watching rugby almost as much as @damppebbles loves books! I watched it with my Dad when I was little, in bars at Uni, and now I try to teach my kids what’s going on for the 10 minutes their attention is held! My experience has taught me that there are 3 almost universal rules to being a rugby fan;
- The commentators are almost always biased against your team
- In 15-a-side everyone loves watching the Barbarians (an international charity invitation team who play carefree entertaining rugby) and
- In 7-a-side rugby everyone’s first or second team is Fiji.
At the 2016 Rio Olympics, 7-a-side rugby debuted and in the final Fiji beat Great Britain with a sublime display of entertaining, flowing and ruthless rugby. This book tells the journey of Englishman Ben Ryan who receives an unexpected tweet, goes through an unorthodox interview process and then coaches this wonderful team to 2 World Sevens Series and finally Fiji’s first Olympic medal.
This book is fascinating. Whether you are interested in rugby, the country of Fiji, Ryan’s philosophy of coaching or how a team which everyone loved watching went from mercurial to world-beaters, you will love this book. Even if you don’t like rugby I challenge you not to be inspired by the journey that you read about, the friendships, the highs and lows, and challenges overcome.
We follow Ben Ryan and his squad through personal hardships, injuries, family tragedies. We see trust grow, being repaid by some yet broken by others. We see reflections of the differences in culture, Ben learning what inspires these players from a Fijian culture, initially alien to him, to perform and train while he reflects on the many differences with the England squad he coached previously. We learn how rugby inspires the country of Fiji and how after the awful events of Cyclone Winston, which bought devastation to the Islands, the 7’s team carried a nation’s hopes into the world’s biggest sporting arena.
I have never understood how authors writing about real events can engender so much emotion into what the reader already knows to be true, but reading about the Olympic final is so wonderfully joyful you feel you have to share it.
Am I going to run out and buy a Fijian 7’s jersey – maybe! Am I going to tell everyone I know who likes rugby, or reads leadership books or sports books about THIS book? YES! Am I going to tell anyone who stands next to me at the coffee machine that they should read this book? YES! Do I think you should go on this journey too? I think you know! A remarkable story, wonderfully told and bound to bring a smile to many people.
OK, I’m impressed – great review. It seems you’ve been taking notes after all 😉 Something a little different for the ‘pebbles today but I’ve rather enjoyed the change. I hope you have too.
Ryan chose to read and review an eARC of Sevens Heaven. The above review is his own unbiased opinion.
Sevens Heaven by Ben Ryan was published in the UK by W&N Books on 31st May 2018 and is available in hardcover, eBook and audio formats (please note, the following links are affiliate links): | amazon.co.uk | amazon.com | Waterstones | Book Depository | Goodreads |
Ben Ryan is the most successful men’s rugby sevens coach in the world, the only coach winning Continental, World and Olympic titles. Ben has been working at the top end of international sport for over a decade. Ben’s achievements are well documented and include many personal and professional accolades.
Ben’s move to Fiji saw him coach the 7s team to Olympic Gold with the team given the prodigious accolade from the IOC as the best male team performance at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. Ben was named Ratu Peni Raini Latianara in Fiji, became Chief in the province of Serua, and was awarded the Companion of the Order of Fiji, the highest order attainable on the Islands. Ben is the Pacific Person of the Year and was short-listed for World Rugby Coach of the Year.
Ben’s coaching across the years has included England Counties (Head Coach), various invitational 15-a-side teams, South West Schools, England U18s, and coaching all England senior and age-grade scrum-halves in their personal technical and tactical skill sets. Ben has also been a regular guest coach at Premiership clubs and academies.
Ben is an RFU Level 1-4 qualified rugby coach, beginning his coaching career in the 15-a-side game. After playing professionally for Bedford Blues and West Hartlepool in the Premiership, Ben went on to begin a teaching career before being appointed as Director of Rugby at Newbury RFC (see The Guardian write up here). Ben’s forward-thinking approach to coaching soon enabled Newbury’s top team to enjoy promotion into the Championship, becoming one of the top 20 teams in the country.
Ben is an ambassador for HSBC and Fiji Airways, and currently a consultant for many world-class organisations, both within and outside the sporting world. Ben thinks differently, empowering individuals with the tools to make real change in the way they lead their lives.